Published: December 7, 2007
At the time of his death, Benjamin Franklin was well known around the world as a scientist and a diplomat; however, he chose to be remembered as simply, “Benjamin Franklin, Printer.” Ironically, his success as a printer and writer have been comparatively overlooked aspects of his life, until now. The exhibition, “Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer,” opening on December 12 at the Grolier Club, takes a fresh, even surprising look at Franklin’s dual relationship to the book as printer and author.
On view through February 2, the exhibition was originally mounted as the centerpiece of the Library Company of Philadelphia’s 275th anniversary celebration in 2006. It is curated by librarian James Green and University of Pennsylvania English professor Peter Stallybrass.
Incorporating more than 80 artifacts, the exhibition is divided into three main sections, the first focusing on Franklin’s career as a printer, the next on his writing and the final section devoted to his Autobiography, an international bestseller and the most widely published autobiography of all time.
The exhibition at the Grolier Club will also feature rare artifacts not seen in the Philadelphia exhibit, such as Franklin’s edition of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, which is the only known copy of the first novel published in America. In addition, Stephen Elmer’s oil portrait of Franklin, known as “The Politician,” painted in 1780, will be on display thanks to Stuart Karu, a preeminent collector of Franklin memorabilia.
Franklin’s career as a printer began at an early age as an apprentice to his brother in Boston; he took this trade with him when he ran away to Philadelphia at the age of 17 and continued to prosper at it until his retirement at age 42. The exhibition takes visitors through Franklin’s career as a printer, during which he made a living producing newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, laws, government printing, blank forms, lottery tickets and almost everything but books.
On display will be the Library Company’s collection of Franklin imprints as well as examples of the entire range of his output, from ephemera to massive folio tomes. Visitors can also see the only known copy of the earliest broadside edition of Franklin’s most popular work, “The Way to Wealth.”
The exhibition also focuses on Franklin’s Autobiography, which was first published in a bizarre assortment of paraphrases and translations, and was not available in book form until long after his death.
“Benjamin Franklin, Writer and Printer” is open free of charge in the ground floor gallery of the Grolier Club at 47 East 60th Street. For information, 212-838-6690 or www.grolierclub.org.
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